Through the minor aches and pains and stiffness of growing older the joy of paddling continues to conquer. There’s hardly a day that passes I don’t have at least a passing thought of getting out on the water, although I’ll admit the rain of late has dampened some of my enthusiasm.
But even a little rain isn’t a deal breaker. Think about it. You put on a breathable drytop, a good rain hat, slip on a spray skirt and cover up with a life jacket and neoprene gloves or poggies if necessary and seal yourself into your boat and you’re basically in a watertight cocoon.
I’ve been caught in a few downpours with raindrops the size of quarters and remained basically dry. Light rain and mist? Nothing much, except for keeping my glasses clear — impossible, in my experience. I suppose contacts would be the way to go.
What will deter me from heading out, however, is the possibility of lightning. It’s not something to ignore. If you hear thunder and see lightning in the distance, get off the water.
I’ll also shy away from a paddling invitation if the wind’s up, say, past 20 knots. It’s just not worth fighting it. If you find yourself facing a stiff breeze, figure out a way to use islands or lee shores to help you out. It may mean crossing a short stretch of open water, so assess your abilities and the conditions before proceeding.
On a paddle earlier this week I faced a northerly breeze gusting to 15 knots or so. My normal route would have taken me up the eastern side of an island in the lake about a half-mile away. Instead I opted for the western, or lee, side. After reaching that calm area I was able to stop briefly, take a sip of water and leisurely paddle up to the northern end where again I faced a headwind and a short, open crossing.
I set course for the shortest distance between the islands, concentrated on making each stroke a little shorter — like taking shorter steps while hiking uphill — and in proper paddling form for efficiency. In no time I was in the lee of the second island where I could take another break and a sip.
Since my outing was to be a round trip, I would take the windward side on the return, having the breeze and waves behind me.
Most important when planning time on the water is having an idea of the weather forecast. Small craft warnings? Plan on taking a hike or flying a kite on land. Lightning? Stay inside. Snow flurries? Dress warmly. Fog? Know how to navigate by chart and compass and carry a fog horn and a VHF radio if you are on saltwater. Stay out of channels where other boats will be operating. Use some common sense. If it’s foggy it’s probably a good day to go somewhere inland and escape it. Often that means only a short trip.
Twice in the past 15 years I’ve paddled when, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have. Both times, fortunately, I was with other paddlers.
Once I was on a guided tour with L.L. Bean near Sebasco Estates where they had a paddling center. (Now it’s in Freeport at Wolfes Neck.) It was partially foggy and warm, muggy actually, and there was a slow rolling sea. I’d had a lobster roll for lunch. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was uncomfortably warm or it was the food, but I got sick. Fortunately I was close enough to a dock that I had something to hold onto.
The second time was on a trip around Bois Bubert Island in Milbridge. My brother, Dan, and I had decided to round the island and paddle back to the family summer place. Had we a weather radio or watched TV — nearly impossible without cable — we’d have thought twice. There had been a hurricane to the south of Maine earlier in the week and the seas offshore were running 10-12 feet. Guess where we were.
On top of that there were wind waves and reflected waves on the southern end of the island that made for some dicey paddling. After rounding the weather end of the island and reaching the relatively protected lee of the Douglas Islands, I felt the sickness coming on. I yelled to Dan to hold up so I could brace on his boat. He thought I was kidding. Nope.
It’s pretty unpleasant. You can’t lean over the side in a kayak. I was thankful for having a spray skirt. Dan eventually got close enough so I could lean on his boat for a while and recover. Again, I wasn’t sure whether it was something I ate or what. Aside from feeling a little woozy I was alright to paddle.
Turns out getting seasick is not a rarity. I was reading the weekly newsletter from Paddling.net this week and there was an article by Wayne Horodowich titled “The Seasick Paddler” — http://www.paddling.net/guidelines/showArticle.html?564 — that was both comforting and educational. Here’s a guy with years of paddling and instructing behind him and he has been victim of seasickness too. I guess it can happen to anyone.
And if you paddle or are thinking about paddling and don’t already get the newsletter, go to http://www.paddling.net/ and check out the site. There’s something there for everyone, including great used boat and equipment listings from sellers all over the country. It’s free and is sent to your email address weekly.